Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 27, 2013

Bijou by the Bay A-OK without vote

BY MICHELLE MERLIN
mmerlin@record-eagle.com

— TRAVERSE CITY — City residents won’t have to vote to keep the Bijou by the Bay.

Traverse City officials' steps to allow the Traverse City Film Festival to develop a movie theater on city-owned Clinch Park property were legal, a judge ruled today.

Former Mayor Fred Nelson sued the city after it contracted with the Film Festival, and alleged city officials improperly disposed of parklands.

Nelson's lawyer, Grant Parsons, argued the move violated the city charter, which requires the public weigh in with a vote if the city attempts to dispose of parklands.

Not so, ruled Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power.

“I don’t think that in the circumstances here involved that this 10-year lease-slash-management agreement can constitute a disposal such that it would trigger the requirement of a referendum,” Power said.

Power said that although the Film Festival changed the activity on Clinch Park, a movie theater is an acceptable park use. He also said that contracting with a private entity did not constitute disposal of public lands.

Power said it is possible that if the Film Festival's 10-year contract was longer, it could have qualified as property disposal.

“Then the full value of the property is transferred,” Power said of a hypothetical 99-year contract. “It seems to me that in view of these extensive costs that had to be incurred to create this theater, 10 years is not an unreasonable length of time to allow somebody to operate.”

Parsons said he is unsure whether he will appeal.

A city lawyer argued that the Film Festival agreement did not require a vote.

“The city is not trying to get out of any of its requirements. It’s just trying to manage its properties the way it’s supposed to under the current law, and that’s what the judge found that the city is doing,” said Lauren Trible-Laucht, the city’s attorney.

The Clinch Park issue was among two Power addressed in Nelson’s suit about parklands. The other was over whether the 59 percent vote to allow changes to the area around Division Street needed to have a 60 percent majority to pass. Power threw out the issue Monday because Nelson filed the suit too late after the election.